Research and practice are the focus for December on SAGE MethodSpace, with featured posts from our Mentors in Residence, the co-editors of Research Design and Methods: An Applied Guide for the Scholar-Practitioner. Find the unfolding series of posts through this link.
Why is research dissemination important for scholar-practitioners and what are the ways they can disseminate their particular kinds of research?
Sometimes a question is best answered with a question. In this case: what is the point of conducting research if no one knows about your findings? The answer is, there really is no point to research unless others can benefit from what is learned. Therefore, it is critical that you take the time to let others know about your findings.
Of course, in an ideal world, findings match your hopes and the design execution was excellent so you have great confidence in your results. But the “ideal” is a rare thing, especially in research. You might have to share surprising and even counterintuitive findings. If so, share away; this is how any field advances. What if you find imperfections in your design? Describe these issues in an open manner and share your lessons learned. This is, in part, how science works, and there is a reason for why strong reports describe study limitations. In terms of the ways to disseminate particular kinds of research, there is a golden rule to consider: know your audience. Your audience will be people who (a) need to know what you found, (b) are interested in your work, and hopefully (c) a combination of the two. Think about this when you consider choosing the peer-reviewed journal outlets to which you will send your work, book chapters, conference presentations, blogs, and activities such as the one we are engaging in to tell the world about this book. Overall, you’ve performed some research; this now means you have some expertise. It’s not enough to just have expertise however; you’re in the social sciences so please share what you know!
Along this line, consider part of the book title: “An applied guide for the scholar-practitioner.” I’ve always identified as a scholar-practitioner. I greatly value those who are doing research that are a few steps removed from the applied world, and I have worked on some ideas that belong in the back end of a shop, but I want to do research that helps us address problems in the here and now. Should we adopt “X” new way of teaching mathematics to elementary school children? Does this counseling program work? Why is staff turnover rate so high in “X” sector? What barriers to chronically unemployed people experience and how might these barriers be addressed? How do prospective college students navigate financial aid? The practitioner side of me sees research as the means to do something quite practical, which is to answer questions in ways that show what to do. Depending on the situation, we might need mixed methods, a randomized controlled trial, action research, and so on to get us the information needed to be strong practitioners. Bringing this back to the opening question: “why is research dissemination important” should now be self-evident. If readers of these paragraphs want some more heady ideas and inspiration, look up phrases like: “there is nothing as practical as a good theory” and “Pasteur’s quadrant.” These are not discussed further here, by design; readers are encouraged to look into these phrases via their favorite search engine!
A parting thought is a lot of my own work is in the research synthesis arena (look up terms like “meta-analysis” and “systematic reviews”). This means I find studies to see if practitioner ideas are supported by lots of well executed studies, or if the evidence is thin. These syntheses have dealt with some important questions, like how can we best support students with behavior problems in schools? The team I worked with wanted to know how to advise teachers after looking at several hundreds of studies. I have also engaged in syntheses in which the focus was on identifying methods that are hard to apply. This kind of work means I have read many studies that yield clear evidence and studies that do not. Over time I have found that all of these studies are helpful, at the very least they yield lessons to be learned for the next research project. Hence, everything should be reported. Keeping work in some file drawer helps no one, least of all the kind people who rendered data. So in conclusion, read our book, start using research on important questions, and tell your field what you have learned! Do so by presenting your research findings in peer-reviewed journals, share at conferences, discuss in blogs, write public reports for the government, and use your hard earned expertise to make the world a better place.
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